Branding Outside of the Blue Box–It’s What’s On the Outside and Inside that Counts

by Amanda Cleary Eastep

She carried the blue shoe box everywhere. On the bus, to school, to the homes of family and friends. And people began to associate this young entrepreneur, a sweet and friendly teen, with that blue shoe box and vice versa.

Most people didn’t even know what was in the box. Like the school bus driver who insisted she run back home to get it when she appeared empty-handed one day, having left it behind in her rush to be on time.

So what was inside the blue shoe box? Handmade earrings. Very cool ones. Jewelry that was one-of-a-kind and reasonably priced.

I watched fascinated as all of this unfolded over several weeks–another of my daughter’s successful attempts to raise funds for a mission trip. I realized I was witnessing the organic “branding” of a company (albeit a teeny, tiny one).

As defined by the American Marketing Association a brand is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

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Huh? What? Of course, we’re paying attention. This is important stuff. We all love marketing definitions.

Good, because here’s a more important one. It attempts to explain what happens on the inside, not of your company (although that’s where it begins) but on the inside of your customers. (This is not a reference to the effects of White Castles and Budweisers at midnight.)

That important definition is brand image. “The perception of a brand in the minds of persons…It is what people believe about a brand–their thoughts, feelings, expectations.”

So what is the overall perception customers have of your business? What is their heart and gut reaction to the very mention of your name? Is it an impression that grew “organically” over time or something you strategized to communicate before the doors even opened?

Companies can spend an entire year or more and huge budgets on branding or re-branding. This goes beyond an updated logo–think the contemporary font and fresh green color for Holiday Inn. But branding isn’t just for the “outside.” You also have to “change the sheets”–think Holiday Inn’s refreshed guest rooms and new service promise. That’s the “inside that counts” stuff that also has to be happening.

If HI has been successful, most customers will feel all warm and fuzzy and well-rested on their inside, too. And every time they hear or see “Holiday Inn,” they’ll return like Pavlov’s dogs to enjoy another good night’s sleep.

Whether on a huge scale or a small one, a company’s brand encompasses many things. It took Holiday Inn two years just to redesign its logo, and it took a teenager with a shoe box a few hours to make $100.

In its simplest form, branding is composed of three main aspects:

1. The outside: The blue shoe box.

Or the cool logo, zippy tagline, symbol you can identify as a stand alone, mascot you would trade your kid for, and name you remember better than you remember your wife’s.

2. The inside: The quality product and caring customer service.

Obviously, your product or service and how you deliver it is what will leave the deepest impression on the public. And an impression, once made, is tough to change. Hence, the Old Norse word brandr, to burn. Companies “burn” their mark on to their products but also on to the hearts and brains of consumers.

3. The other inside: The customer who chased down the teen entrepreneur waving dollar bills and yelling, “Girl with the blue shoe box!”

Don’t you want customers to show that kind of enthusiasm? to chase you down as they wave money at you, yelling your name like you’re a rock star? It can happen. If your “outside” promise matches what your “inside” can deliver, your company will leave a lasting impression on a lot of happy and satisfied customers.

Read this fun and informative article from Forbes: The 8 Keys to Successful Branding – Why ‘Mad Men’ and Whisky Are Not Going To Cut It

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